Reading Like a Writer: 5 Effective Ways to Find or Start a Poetry Reading Group
Ask today’s most successful poets for their top writing tips, and one resurfaces again and again: reading. For poets, spending time reading diverse, celebrated poetry enhances their craft. Incorporating both old and new titles into your routine can teach you about elements like form, voice, line break, and more. In fact, most MFA programs require students to read more than 50 titles, and writing workshops regularly center around books to inform discussion. If you want to share your reading practice with other poets, as well as benefit from their insights, finding or establishing a poetry book club may be a fulfilling step. Here are some suggestions for getting started.
1. Check out offerings at universities and libraries.
Falmouth Public Library in Massachusetts made literary news for hosting a monthly poetry salon, but it’s far from the only one of its kind. New York Public Library and Benicia Public Library have made similar strides, making conversations about poetry a part of their regular programming. A library’s role of encouraging knowledge and intellectual discourse makes asking a librarian at your local institution about joining an existing club or creating a new group a natural step.
Similarly, college organizations like Sigma Tau Delta, an international English Honors society with chapters at a variety of universities, regularly host poetry circles. A creative writing club or literary magazine may play a similar role. If you’re a college or high school student, a poetry reading group might be just a classroom away.
2. Browse Meetup groups.
Meetup, a site where users can organize groups based on similar interests, has more than 225,000 active groups. A search for poetry groups brings up options in Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Toronto, and many other cities. An online search could help you translate your passion for poetry into IRL friendships and inspiration.
3. Find great poetry reads—and people who love them just as much as you do—at your local bookstore.
Independent bookstores do more than just stock shelves with must-have collections. They also invite people to connect around the power of literature, hosting readings, signings, slams, and—yep—discussions. With many events currently taking place over Zoom, it may be possible to tune in no matter where you are geographically. Consider calling your local bookshop to join or start a poetry circle. Among many others, examples include Wise Blood Booksellers monthly community reads in Kansas City, Literati Bookstore’s poetry book club in Ann Arbor, and book talks at White Whale Bookstore in Pittsburg.
4. Read through an award-winning list with friends.
If you’re looking to start your own poetry book club, choosing which collections to read can be a daunting decision. The longlist for the 2020 National Book Award for Poetry contains 10 contenders for one of the genre’s biggest honors, meaning you and your book group will learn from the masters. Similarly, you may want to read books from former U.S. Poet Laureates or Pulitzer Prize winners throughout history. These accolades not only ensure quality—they also underlie your group with a connecting theme or thread.
5. Get the best kind of mail—book mail.
There’s a reason why subscription boxes like Book of the Month are so popular. The curated reads eliminate guesswork, delivering books that authors and influencers are raving about. It turns out that there are also poetry versions of this tried-and-true model. The Rumpus, a beloved online literary magazine, offers The Rumpus Poetry Book Club for $30 a month. Members receive a forthcoming collection not yet available to the public each month, plus a link to a conversation with the author.
The Poetry Book Society, founded by T.S. Eliot, is another take on this idea. With multiple subscription options, members can receive up to 24 collections per year.
Once you’ve found your book club, it’s important to identify key factors, like what titles you’ll read, how often to meet, discussion guidelines, and a cozy space to gather. Take inspiration from Read Poetry’s guide to forming a writing workshop.